<u>Session 16: Desnus 1, 4717 AR-Desnus 9, 4717 AR</u>
The return journey to the Burial Halls was mainly uneventful aside from two encounters with the now ubiquitous spiders of the forest. Aside from a very brief cold snap, the weather was mild and it seemed that the winter was finally behind you. Yon the 8th of the month, you descended back to the level where you had fought the strange vampire and proceeded to explore it further. Aside from a fiendish phasing giant spider that seriously wounded Belflin and a few magical traps, the level was empty. You did, however, find signs that an earlier group had spent significant time camped herein, although you could not surmise whether it was the Orcus priests, the petrified adventurers, or another group entirely.
You did find an exit that connected this level to the larger second level of the complex. Continuing your exploration of the second level, you ran into three oytughs who had taken up residence in a latrine area. After dispatching these odious beasts, the party then came to an area of magical darkness that hid a plate-mail clad zombie, which you all assumed had been set here as a guardian. Atish used the power of Sarenrae to penetrate the darkness, allowing the party to continue its exploration.
Eventually, you came to a cavern that contained a large, human-like head standing 8 feet tall. It had a blank stare and a closed mouth, giving you the distinct impression that it was on the verge of speaking one very powerful word. The statue radiated neither good nor evil, but it did radiate magic—a dim flicker, deep within and distant. The radiation of magic is due to the fact that the root of this statue reaches down into a pool of earth blood, and the power courses through the statue. Drinna and Drebb recognized this statue as an earth spirit connected to the Hungry Mountains. Dwarven lore posited that it spoke the word that made these mountains when Torag commanded it, and that it would one day speak the word that shall destroy them. It is said that a spirit such as this exists within every formation of earth that is a distinct entity: mountain ranges, gorges, hills, cliffs, and so on. Further, it is said that these spirits, if found, may be made to reveal the words that they can speak—words of great power.
Leaving the awe-inspiring earth spirit, you all eventually came to a small cavern that held a cask of wine and a cask of water as well as a sleeping bag in a backpack. The pack also contained 50 feet of rope, iron spikes, two small sacks, two vials of unholy water, and flint and steel in a tinderbox. This was obviously someone’s escape route and emergency equipment. Proceeding further, you came to a room that appeared to be someone’s study. It contained several tables, bookshelves and a desk. It also has a cask of both water and wine and a large barrel holding iron rations along with three chests. The tables held several neat stacks of parchment detailing the studies of a renegade Drow named Natasha who had come to these caverns to experiment on vermin. She detailed how there was a malign force further north on this level that was creating corrupted stirges. The notes also went into her competition with the strange vampire named Balcoth you had previously sought. Most importantly, however, the notes detailed how to reach level 5. According to Natasha, this level was filled with evil, sentient frog beings that worshipped a foul deity known as Tsathogga. The way to reach level 5 was through a pool of water in the northeastern sections of level 1. Atish also looted the book on the shelves, which contained information of Natasha’s patron Nocticula, the demon goddess of darkness, assassins, and revenge as well as information on the Drow and their abhorrent practice of fleshwarping.
You all decided to rest here and set up an ambush for Natasha. She never arrived, and it appeared that she caught wind of your presence and had fled back into the Darklands. Atish prayed to Sarenrae for magic to help you all breather water, and you proceeded to the pool. Swimming beneath the pool, you all had to fight six giant poisonous frogs before emerging into a cavern that contained stairs leading down. These stairs were guarded by 6 more of the giant frogs, which you all dispatched with ease.
Descending about 250 feet, the party came into a great cavern with a vaulted ceiling reaching 100 feet into the darkness above. In the north side of the cavern was a large, fetid lake smelling of swamp water and decay. The walls and floors of this area were slime and fungus covered, in part due to the heat and humidity associated with the entirety of this level and in part due to the cultivation of such things by the local inhabitants. Molds and mushrooms sprouted from every crack and crevice, while water dripped from the ceiling in thick, gooey droplets, occasionally dripping on those below. Pale green light emanated from a raised platform at the other end of the lake, creating vast areas of shadow, and allowing vision to a range of 200 feet. This area appeared to be heavily traveled. There was a passage to the south that was dark and is bisected by a pool of water. There was a small side passage to the east and a large gallery leading southwest that split into two larger passages. Taking a deep breath, you all prepared to explore this level, hoping the end of your quest was near.